NETANYA, Israel – A 16-year-old high school boy couldn’t stop laughing.
For the first time in his life, Shaima Jamous felt the Mediterranean water over his feet and the sand washed from his feet. For the first time, she breathed the salty air and was lulled by the sound of waves.
The beach in Netanya, Israel, was just 30 miles away from her home in Nablus, in the West Bank, but it could well have been another world.
“I always knew I would get to the beach eventually, but I never thought it would be that easy,”; said Miss Jamous.
She was among the tens of thousands of Palestinians who had enjoyed a rare day on the beach for the past several days through an informal agreement that did not require Israeli permission but required to slip through gaps in the fence. security of Israel.
The opening took place underground and unannounced, and after the arrival of Israeli and Palestinian news about it, Israel shut it down on Tuesday.
The Israeli military and other security agencies declined to comment on why Palestinians are allowed to pass through the gaps in the fence – a series of fences and walls that cut off much of the occupied West Bank – which without a license. Israel often requires Palestinians to obtain a travel permit – an arduous and often complicated process that involves passing important security checks – to enter its territory.
Gadi Shamni, former head of the army’s Central Command, said he thinks Israel is trying to “ease the pressure” on Palestinians in the West Bank, where unemployment has risen sharply since its inception. coronavirus virus.
Israel usually grants tens of thousands of permits to Palestinians during the Eid holiday season but not this year because of the restrictions officials say have been imposed against the virus.
Shamni and other former security officials warned that allowing Palestinians to enter Israel without procedures would pose a security risk that they think attackers will be able to exploit. That concern may be a reason for the government’s silence about the opening, which will not be liked by a large portion of the Israeli public.
Many residents of Netanya, a conservative town where the right-wing Likud party won the most votes in the last election, in April expressed opposition to allowing Palestinians to enter Israel without a permit, wearing although some welcome it.
“These are people who want to spend time at the beach,” said Maurice Sedowitz, a retired dentist. “Palestinian families are free to play here with or without a license.”
The often heavily guarded borders are clearly open to business.
A pair of Israeli soldiers patrolling near a hole in a fence in the northern village of Faroun on Monday did nothing to stop a Palestinian crowd with fridges and food bags from passing. Nor did two Israeli military vehicles act against seafarers.
Residents of Faroun, where traffic jams have occurred in the past week, even said they had seen the army help people through the hole at night by turning on the lights.
The opening went viral on the Palestinian social network. Palestinian tour operators, which have suffered huge losses since the West Bank pandemic in March, began to operate.
Saadi Abu Zant, owner of Prestige Travel and Tourism, has organized two trips over the past week with stops in Haifa as well as the beach in Netanya.
“For months, I was completely at home doing nothing,” said Mr. Abu Zant. “The holes in the fence completely changed that.”
Other tour operators offer kayaking adventures on the Jordan River, Acre Old City tours and excursions through Jaffa and Tiberias.
On Monday, after the Palestinians passed through a wide gap in the fence in Faroun, they headed for a lot of buses. “Haifa, Acre,” said one of the bus drivers. “Jaffa, Tel Aviv,” said another.
The seafarers paid the drivers, took the seats and left.
Azzam al-Naanaa, 44, a raucous university security guard in Nablus who is visiting Netanya, said the last time he went to an Israeli beach was two decades ago.
“It was a very special experience going to the beach, but it was even more special because I did so with my kids,” he said. His four children are sitting on the sand and watching the waves crash.
Mr al-Naanaa said that the Israeli authorities had previously banned him from entering Israel for security reasons. He did not say why, but Israel often applies such measures to members of militant organizations, whom it suspects to be involved in violence, and to those involved in who committed a violent crime.
The West Coast has no sea borders except for a small strip of the Dead Sea, which is very hot, difficult to swim in, and is under Israeli control.
The holes have been in the fence for many years. In the past, the Israeli Army has turned a blind eye to the Palestinian workers passing through the holes to the construction sites in Israel. But some West Bank Palestinians say they cannot recall a time when Israel allowed thousands of families to pass by them to go to the beach.
Palestinians on the beach in Netanya admit that they fear they might catch the coronavirus when traveling on crowded buses – many do not wear masks. But they said they did not hesitate to go to the beach.
“This is an acceptable risk,” said Hiba, 40, a resident of Tulkarem. “I have never been to the beach with my whole family.” She refuses to give her last name for fear of being arrested.
Nasreen Abu Alia, an interior designer from Nablus, is sitting under an umbrella in Netanya to watch her daughter play in the sand.
“I felt like I was seeing a dear old friend that I missed so much,” said Ms. Abu Alia, who recently visited the beach for the second time. “Being here today is a dream come true.”
Mohammed Najib has contributed reports from Ramallah, West Bank.